For the particularity of events in urban transformation of Naples, the analysis of the stories of women’s religious orders and the social environment appear to be significantly bound to the city.
The spread extension of church properties in the ancient part of the town from the sixteenth century saw a great development, in part due to the outgrowing of the Counterreformation percepts.
The monasteries were spaces where a spiritual mission and welfare were involved, and they represented – in response to the events of Napoleonic and post-unitary suppression laws – important public facilities too.
The settlement of the religious complexes in Naples was a consequence of the Counterreformation outcomes, but also and above all a form of control of the economic power on a city that had always been a bridge between the East and Constantinople.
Naples of the Spanish Viceroyalty was obliged to face a significant increase in population and at the same time to manage the inhabited spaces, which will be the subject of ecclesiastical settlements controlled by the Roman Papacy, with the help and support of the aristocracy and of the Neapolitan nobility.
In addition to all this, there was the unresolved question of the eastern swampy area, which prevented any programming expansion.
This was the period in which the small Naples streets were born, a Naples marked by descriptions as a challenging living spot, with the inevitable holographic connotations which throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have contributed to the spreading of a stereotypical image.
Even today in the ancient center of Naples alternate wonderful palaces, churches, monasteries, and civil houses apparently without interest but characterized by elements and portals stating their construction era.
Besides the sacred and noble architecture of considerable value, there is an architecture “without architects” which was built thanks to established and unwritten rules, handed down by local builders, who determined the image of Naples throughout the years.
Who walks along the Naples streets cannot have any idea about the gardens and the court islands belonging to the various ecclesiastical houses. These structures are inserted into the urban net of Naples downtown.
Monasteries and convents are hidden, with cloisters and valuable works of art, including continuous and layered walls.
In the ancient part of the city, nunneries, as well as all other architecture structures offer a representation of the architectural styles contemplating both Renaissance and Baroque elements, late Baroque and neo-classical solutions, as well as classical and neo-Renaissance facades.
The manufacturer of the church buildings worked in communion with the client in order to be able to take advantage of all available spaces, depending on the type of activities that the religious order was to play in the structure. In this case the architecture is to be considered in relation to the spiritual mission of clergymen.
The architecture of religious buildings and the type of the complex are connected to the rule and the observance of the canons of the religious order and the dictates of the General Order House.
Let be only mentioned St. Peter Martyr and St. Catherine in Formello, cloisters with a double service structure, a porch with accommodations and functions being developed around a community space, often cultivated. These same structures after the suppression of the religious orders were used for public functions or demolished to make way for new buildings.
Some religious complex will be adapted to factories, others will have public functions and still operating, others will be demolished in the first decades of the twentieth century.
The cancellation of the Monastery of the Cross of Lucca took place between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in order to build university clinics to be achieved during the restoration plan, after 1884.
During the French decade – 1806/1815 – anti-clerical policies are carried on that limited the riches accumulated by religious Neapolitan groups. Through the laws suppressing religious orders, the French started a social, economic and urban development renewal.
At first with the abolition of religious structures, the French government confiscated many estates to be allocated for civil and military services, which later were used as factories, during the Bourbon period 1815/60.
In 1806 it was established that in every convent had to be at least 12 dedicated friars to avoid cancellation. During the French decade were performed works of great importance as the Poor Hostel and the Royal Palace of Capodimonte. During this period a road was built connecting the Museum area with the one of Capodimonte, thanks to the “bridge on the Sanità district”
All this, along with Foria Street, Posillipo Street and the Ponti Rossi Road, was possible thanks to the suppression of religious orders allowing to forfeit the properties that prevented the construction of trunk roads.
The French government promoted the development of science, literature and the arts, encouraging the culture and the economic and social advancement of the Kingdom. The “Royal Society for Encouragement of Natural Sciences and Economics” was founded, an institution that will continue to operate even with the return of the Bourbons, stimulating the development of manufacturing activities, sometimes just in the ecclesiastical buildings previously “cleared”.
From 1815 with the Bourbon restoration, initiatives characterizing the previous rules will be kept, facilitating the operative aims of the Neapolitan bourgeoisie. Government interventions were aimed at encouraging free trade in the urban areas as well as in the province and abroad.
Thanks to the grant of state structures at low costs, new factories were established, with the arrival of foreign capitals, and entrepreneurs from European countries, in which industrial development was already advanced.
Among the ecclesiastical sees that underwent a significant change of use we mention:
The monastery of Saint Mary of Life at Fontanelle, where two candles and wax factories were allocated, and a factory manufacturing beaver skins and woolen cloths.
In the Holy Apostles complex were placed factories for the processing of tobacco.
There still are many active structures, adapted for public offices in the nineteenth century. An example is the Classical High school A. Genovesi, placed in the Jesuit structure, at the side of the church facade of Gesù Nuovo.
Saint Peter at Majella was transformed into the Royal Conservatory of Music.
S. Peter at Majella
Sant’Anna dei Lombardi at Monte Oliveto, St. Joseph and St. Christopher all’Ospedaletto were used for military purposes.
The Incurabili hospital near S.Aniello in Caponapoli and the Pilgrims hospital in Pigna Secca still keep their functions.
In addition were used for university facilities the complex of Saints Marcellino and Festo (now the Faculty of Geology of the University Federico II) and Old Jesus (now a library) and the sites Saint Catherine of Siena and the historic complex of Suor Orsola Benincasa (now being a University under the same name).
In 1823, in the sixteenth century cloister of St. Catherine in Formello a beaver clothing factory was settled, representing the first Bourbon private incentive for economic development.
The Dominican structure was particularly suited to the establishment of textile factories, due to the presence of water distributed by the public fountain Formello. In the same year an exemption of the rent payment for 15 years was issued, with the obligation for the entrepreneur to employ inside the factory the prisoners in jail at the Poor Hostel.
The growing in the factory rhythms allowed to get a new license with the provision of a new bigger building and with the employment of further 200 units of “servants in punishment”.
In the middle of the nineteenth century different requisitioned ecclesiastical structures were used for drying tobacco. This is the case of the complex Teatino that underwent several changes to be adapted to the new role, with the replacement of flat slabs with metallic structures, new buildings were inserted into the courtyard, lofts and stairs created to connect the various floors occupied by machines, while the spans of the portico were used for drying tobacco.
In 1970, the tobacco factory abounded site and a gradual restoration was started.
In 1864, in order to solve the problem of housing shortage, Santa Maria Donnaregina and St. Andrea delle Dame were hypothesized as residential structures. The intervention at the monastery Donnaregina is related to the work in Cathedral Street ( Via Duomo), which continued well beyond 1864.
The technicians hypothesized to eliminate the western sector of the convent to create construction shares for the middle class, which were obtained by works in the above mentioned Street.
In the proposal of the technicians we observe a rather casual attitude to the conservation and protection of cultural heritage, a common behavior of nineteenth-century architects and engineers. The end result is a kind of multi-purpose environments commonly used to make the most of the original features of the sites.
For the convent of the Ladies of St. Anne, the solution is more linear. The different functions were defined: on the ground floor were placed structures of common use, housing facilities, all served by a common corridor, were located on the upper floor. In addition to the division of spaces, there was an improvement for the entrances, by an entrance hall with staircase and an adjacent elevator on the Constantinople Street.
The reuse plan for monasteries will not be achieved, due to bureaucratic difficulties, due to lack of public funds, and lack of interest by entrepreneurs who favored the use of capitals in the construction of new residential districts.
The complex Donnaregina was finished with the end of works in Cathedral Street, while the complex of St. Andrew finished with the restoration works.
During the restoration works in the mid-800s, two important structures were demolished, the monastery of Saint Mary della Sapienza and the one of the Cross of Lucca.
The monasteries were replaced by the building blocks of the university clinics of medicine.
There were many disputes, as the Cross of Lucca Church was considered by critics a jewel of Neapolitan Baroque. The dissent by critics was the opportunity to extend the principle of conservation in the city center of Naples, rich in architectural layering and works of art.
In 1903 a group of intellectuals contributors to the magazine – Very Noble Naples – denounced the demolishing provision and dealt with the enhancement of the site.
The monastery was demolished following the widespread thought favoring the use of the conservation, encouraging the development of new factories.